Standing in line to sign up for the Digital Youth Summit in Peshawar this May, I struck up a conversation with a young woman from Peshawar. I was pleasantly surprised by her level of interest and eagerness in participating at the tech conference. She was keen to develop an app that would allow her to sell home-based food products at a national level. She had already gathered a group of friends who would work with her on different aspects of task planning and implementation. Her enthusiasm was palpable and infectious. Born and raised in South Asia, I understand the constraints local women face in largely male dominated societies. I was therefore heartened by the large turn-out of women queuing to enroll for the workshops.
The Digital Youth Summit (popularly known as DYS) is a tech conference that has grown into a premier tech conference. Since its inception in 2014, the conference has provided hope and recognition to the youth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) - a region that has in the recent years been torn by conflict. DYS organized by the KP IT Board partnering with World bank and other sponsors, brings international and national experts in the digital economy within easy reach of the participants. DYS blends into the current traditional male dominated marketplace entrepreneurship model while transforming it into an age and gender-inclusive diversified digital platform.
In Pakistan, women’s economic empowerment remains a challenge. According to a World Bank report on Women’s Labor Force Participation in Pakistan, “Gender issues are pervasive in Pakistan, which ranks 143rd out of 144 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index in 2016 (World Economic Forum, 2016). Pakistan performs particularly poorly on women’s economic participation and opportunity, placing 143rd of 144 on the same index, higher only compared to Syria. Pakistan’s female labor force participation (FLFP) rate is 22.2 percent, significantly lower than 68.1 percent for males (Government of Pakistan, 2013-14) and is one of the lowest in the region, higher only than that of Afghanistan (18 percent, in 2011)”. This unfortunately has knock-on implications on poverty alleviation and overall economic growth of the country.
The digital economy is still a relatively friendly space for women. Usage of digital technologies have evolved from mere literacy to Digital fluency. This evolution is sweeping the world connecting people with information and its applicability. Digital fluency is an effective tool to close the gender gap, enhance skill expression and level the playing field for women at work and in society.
Newer avenues are now open to the women segregated within the local domestic household to express their untapped skills and crafts. Their natural hidden entrepreneurial spirits now find access to the global mainstream digital marketplace. DYS has succeeded in breaking through the cultural museum and created a vibrant workspace for the youth of KP without disturbing local values.
Excitement infused the atmosphere at the DYS conference as local boys and girls eager to ride the wave of this digital revolution crowded the conference rooms (2017 had 4000 participants). Panel discussions with experts from across the globe and within Pakistan drew crowds to the main hall, while the interactive workshops focused on specific aspects of innovation, digital inclusion, community spaces, fake news, creating apps and ecosystems. The expo was a vibrant display of digital creativity.
Young female voices were overheard actively asking questions in non-segregated tech sessions. The animated tones discussing ideas, exchanging knowledge on developing apps to sell home-based heritage products like art, clothing, cuisine and upholstery in international markets charged the air with a distinct sense of hope and empowerment. The sky is the limit for these young women!
During the summit, the most reverberating quote amongst locals and lawmakers alike was “the women of our traditional families can now explore opportunities across the globe from within the four walls of our homes”.
DYS made its mark as the ‘dynamic youth summit’ that strives to provide current, gender-equal entrepreneurial opportunities to women and their aspirations by connecting them to the Global mainstream. It’s a win-win endeavor all the way!